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Montreal, February 21, 2010 --- Five Black youths from the city's Little Burgundy district are taking the Montreal Transit Corporation (STM) to the Quebec human rights commission for racial profiling, abuse of authority and excessive use of force.

At a packed press conference held today at the Imani Family and Full Gospel Church to mark Malcolm X Memorial Day in Little Burgundy, home of the city's oldest English-speaking Black community, the youths denounced the abusive treatments they and many other Black residents encountered in Montreal’s subway system. They are supported by DESTA (a Black youth group) and CRARR, which represents them before the Commission.

These youths were involved in two separate incidents in November 2009. In one incident, three Black women in their early twenties - Ms. Samantha Hyman-Roberts, Ms. Taejhia James, and Ms. Teasha Mary Codrington-Thompson - were riding the metro home from work one evening when two white male inspectors approached them in the metro car for proof of payment (POP). When Ms. Hyman-Roberts explained she had discarded her metro ticket, the inspectors asked her to step out of the metro car at the next stop. After she asked why, since she wanted to go home, the inspectors grabbed and threw Ms. Hyman-Roberts onto the floor to arrest her at Atwater station. The situation degenerated into violence and all three women received tickets for obstructing the work of an inspector, at a cost of $324 each. Ms. Hyman-Roberts was also given a $214 ticket for not providing POP.

In the words of Ms. James, “I felt like I was being treated like an animal or a slave. No three young small white girls would have been assaulted like that.”

The other incident took place at Georges-Vanier Metro and involved two young Black men, who were returning from a university conference in Toronto and were stopped by a group of white STM inspectors. Due to his inability to produce POP, Mr. Gallo Cham and his friend Mr. Mustapha Thompson were verbally intimidated. Mr. Cham was later ticketed $214 for not keeping POP; he felt he was the victim of racial profiling and that his civil rights had been compromised, as both men noticed that only Black males were being stopped for POP checks.

According to Mr. Thompson, an active DESTA volunteer, “I am Black, male, young and bright and that alone makes me an immediate threat to many white police officers and inspectors. This mindset must be rooted out and dealt with severely.”

One of the youths' main charges, in complaints filed by CRARR on their behalf, is that the STM, through its zero tolerance and fine policies, disproportionately burdens and criminalizes Black youths in Little Burgundy and elsewhere. Black youths have been shown to experience higher unemployment and have lower income than the average youth. Consequently, by singling out and then automatically applying a $214 fine to Black youths if they are unable to provide POP, the STM compounds the strain placed on an already economically disadvantaged group.

According to Ms. Elena Toews, CRARR's Civil Rights Advocate, the Human Rights Commission must also investigate STM metro inspection practices and force the public transit agency to:

  • Stop automatically associating the failure to produce POP with illegal ridership;
  • End racial profiling, zero tolerance and discriminatory and abusive use of force;
  • Issue specific guidelines as to what actually constitutes the obstruction of a metro inspector's work and publicly disseminate these guidelines;
  • Set up an effective information campaign to inform metro riders of their rights when intercepted by STM inspectors, and their duty to conserve POP; and
  • Train all metro inspectors on racial profiling and other civil rights violations.
  • This is not the first case of public transit racism handled by CRARR. In March 2009, a 23 year-old Black female McGill student was violently arrested by STM inspectors at the Peel metro station for simply standing and talking to a Latino friend and for asking the inspectors to talk to her more politely when she was told to move on. After being asked for ID, she was slammed against the wall, pinned down by five inspectors, handcuffed and detained. Three months after mandating CRARR to file a civil rights complaint, she was fined $100 for blocking the free circulation of people and cited with two criminal charges for obstructing the inspectors' work.

    As part of a campaign for racial justice in public transit, the youths and their supporters encourage all Black residents of Little Burgundy, who have long complained of racial profiling and harassment in local metro stations (Lionel Groulx, Georges Vanier and Saint Henri), and across Montreal who have been similarly treated, to sue the STM for civil rights violations.

    “The Black adults and youths of Little Burgundy and other parts of Montreal are tired of being subservient cash cows to be taxed or fined left and right by the STM,” said Ms. Kelly Thompson, volunteer coordinator at DESTA and a Little Burgundy grandmother and mother. “We want people to rise up for their rights.”

    Ms. Frances Waithe, DESTA’s Director, added: “We call on STM Chairman Michel Labrecque to immediately hold a public meeting on this issue and be accountable to the community. Mr. Labrecque, stop the POP and end racial profiling now!”

    In 2006, CRARR won a $15,000 civil rights case for a Black youth who was violently arrested by STM inspectors at Laurier metro station. In 2007, the Cour du Québec ruled that STM inspectors at the Lionel Groulx metro station committed racial profiling against an Asian woman when they arrested her over a ticket transfer and even contacted immigration authorities to check her address (see Quebec Court Decision on Racial Profiling in Montreal's metro system:

    Many residents of Little Burgundy spoke at the press conference of similar incidents with the STM inspectors, including the mother of a 10-year old Black girl who was intercepted; many will proceed to file civil rights complaints against the STM in the coming weeks.

    Well-known Toronto civil rights lawyer Selwyn Pieters came to show support and encourage Black Montrealers to sue to protect their civil rights and combat racial profiling.